Clinical Psychologist Joel Low On How His Childhood Struggles With Mental Health Inspired Him To Later Help Others
Joel Low was 14 years old when he decided that he wanted to be a clinical psychologist when he gets older. The career aspiration stemmed from his own struggles with mental health as a teenager. “I was going through an emotional phase in my life back then,” he says. “Like a ‘I hate the world and the world hates me’ type of situation. This went on for a fair bit.”
He credits his friends at school for helping him through this period of his life, as they took turns to talk to him and show him that there were people who cared. “When things settled down and I rediscovered myself and my place, it occurred to me that I was lucky enough to have friends who cared enough to remind me that they do. But there may be others who weren’t quite as lucky as I was, and if so, could I help?”
Over two decades later, Low has founded his own private practice in Malaysia, the Mind Psychological Services and Training, which has helped about 50,000 clients with their mental health matters. Spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, he has expanded his reach by launching a YouTube channel and podcast to share essential knowledge on the issue, from relaxation exercises to ways to manage anxiety. “I wanted to create a self-help repository of sorts, so that when you’re in a bit of a spot, you’d be able to check the content out and see if it helps to pick you up.”
Here, we speak to Low about everything from his greatest failure to his secret passion for volleyball.
How did you meet your co-founder for the Mind Psychological Services and Training?
I started the centre with Kah Leong, a high school friend of mine who I've known for about 13 years now. Funnily enough, he has no background in psychology and instead holds a doctorate in science. Prior to starting the place with me, he was a lecturer. Now, he focuses on the training and business side of things while I focus on the therapy and training of clinicians. In total, our clinical team is made up of 10 clinical psychologists, counsellors, and health and sports psychologists.
What advice would you give yourself when first starting out, if you could go back?
To try everything once. If you like it and it’s beneficial, keep right at it. If you don’t, then never do it again! It’s a credo that we [at Mind Psychological Services and Training] maintain till today, and it’s given us some rather unique opportunities and experiences over the years.
Who is your hero?
This question stumped me and honestly, I don’t have an answer—at least not a cliché one. But I suppose it would be my dad. He showed me the meaning of hard work and perseverance, both things that have held us in good stead all this while.
Try everything once. If you like it and it’s beneficial, keep right at it. If you don’t, then never do it again!
— Joel Low
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I hope to be in a position where I can have greater reach in terms of my ability to educate the community about good mental health. I also hope to have built a team that shares the same dreams and does great work with our clients.
What’s your ultimate professional ambition?
My ultimate professional ambition is to be a grey-haired, wizened old professor, who sits around all day supervising and training young clinicians, and having conversations about what constitutes good therapy.
What has been your greatest failure and what did it teach you?
I’ve had quite a few, to be honest, far too many to list. But I think the one thing that I’ve learned from all of them is that there is always an end to failure and a start to something new moving forward. It's also important to allow yourself just a day to dwell on the failure and then move on. Life’s much too short to dwell on our failures for too long.
What’s a book that has changed your life?
I want to say Harry Potter, but I suppose a more appropriate answer would be A Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom. In therapy circles, it’s an absolute classic and a must-read. What I find absolutely fascinating about it is that every time I read it at different stages of my career, I learn such new and fascinating things. I can’t recommend it enough. I’m on my third go-through and I’m still finding nuggets of wisdom.
What’s something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I'm an avid volleyball player. Naturally, I’m not the guy at the front of the net, jumping for spikes, but I’m the libero—the dude at the back who receives the balls coming at us. It's mainly because the role involves very little jumping, which is fitting for my 'roundness'. It’s a family passion as well, as my parents met while playing the sport and my brother and I played as well. I hope my kids will pick it up at some point too.
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